U.S. federal FOIA officers
February 21st, 2006 by JTJ

Scott Hodes, in a recent column on the LLRX site, points us to a potentially helpful Dept. of Justice page listing the chief FOIA officers for federal agencies.  That said, he also has some appropriate criticism of some of those appointments.

FOIA Facts

Chief FOIA Officers

By Scott A. Hodes

Published February 15, 2006

Agencies have now named their Chief FOIA Officers
pursuant to

Executive Order (EO) 13392
. This act is
the first milestone of the EO which was issued to increase agency FOIA
performance on December 14, 2005.

The Chief FOIA Officer is supposed to be “a senior official of such agency
(at the Assistant Secretary or equivalent level), to serve as the Chief
FOIA Officer of that agency.” Most agencies have complied with this
requirement by naming Chief FOIA Officers at that level. However, from the

list of Chief FOIA Officers
available at
the Department of Justice's FOIA website, some agencies have not met this
requirement. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), an agency that
has seen the numbers of FOIA requests to it rise dramatically over the
years, named its FOIA/PA Branch Chief, Celia Winter to be the Chief FOIA
Officer. Ms. Winter is responsible for overseeing the processing of FOIA
and Privacy Act requests made to the SEC, a position that I do not believe
is considered Assistant Secretary or equivalent level at any other federal
agency. Additionally, the Federal Housing Finance Board named Janice A.
Kaye, their FOIA Officer, which may not be at the acceptable level.

Furthermore, other agencies have also made questionable appointments. The
Environmental and Protection Agency named Linda Travers, an Assistant
Manager, Office of Environmental Information. The Department of
Agriculture named Peter J. Thomas, a Deputy Assistant Secretary, which is
of course one step below an Assistant Secretary. The Office of the
Director of National Intelligence named Joseph P. Mullin Jr. an Executive
Administrator for the Deputy Director of National Intelligence for
Management, a position which is hard to figure out exactly what level it

I challenge OMB and the Department of Justice to go back to these agencies
and ask them to either provide proof that these appointments are at the
required level. If the agencies fail to prove this fact, they should be
required to appointment individuals at the proper level.

The reason this is important is that the EO wanted individuals at a
certain level for a reason. The reason is that the higher the appointment,
the more weight the individual would have in getting results in their
delegated responsibilities under the EO (which to summarize, making agency
FOIA processes work better). By appointing the individual in charge of the
program or deputies, agencies show scorn for the process named in the EO
and by implication the FOIA itself.

As this was an EO, there are no remedies for FOIA requesters to challenge
these appointments. This, in and of itself, is one more reason that FOIA
legislation is needed with stronger oversight of certain agency FOIA

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